KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – His official job description is to help carry equipment and supplies for Canadian engineers when they head out on their marathon treks across the treacherous Afghan countryside.
But Hughes, the pint-sized Afghan donkey, clearly eases more than just the physical burden of being a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan.
The engineers, from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment, based in Edmonton, bought the donkey for $200 from a group of Afghan National Army soldiers who share their patrol base west of Kandahar city, said Sapper Derek McCann, 22, of Vancouver.
“We were looking for something, because as engineers, we carry a lot of weight, (with) usually just two guys per patrol, and it’s heavy,” McCann said.
“We got the donkey, so he can carry some of the stuff we need him to carry.”
McCann and fellow sapper Edward Monk, from St. Albert, Alta., were among those who christened the donkey Hughes – after a fellow soldier back home.
Hughes isn’t very big – he’s only about thigh-high on most of the troops who gather to see him every time he emerges from the engineers’ compound – but he’s a big help on patrols, said McCann.
He also doesn’t seem to mind providing joyrides to soldiers around the base.
But it’s clear from the attention he gets from his Canadian keepers that Hughes is more of a pet than a workhorse.
He helps the engineers unwind after long days spent searching nearby roads for improvised explosive devices, which is a major part of their work, said Cpl. Scott King of Lamaline, N.L.
“He’s just something for us to look after and take care of and have a little bit of fun with and kinda forget about our jobs sometimes,” King said, Hughes in tow, as the pair returned from a patch of pasture near the entrance to the base.
“It’s a lot of fun, actually. We all take turns looking after it, and feeding it, taking it down in the pasture, going for a ride – it’s fun.”
The donkey eats kitchen scraps, apples and weeds that sprout out of the heavy gravel that’s spread around the base in an effort to keep the dust down.
And he’s far better off inside the Canadian compound than he ever was toiling for his former Afghan masters, said Monk.
“They don’t have the same respect for animals that we do.”